I no longer had full use of my arms…or my legs for that matter. Simple tasks that I had once taken for granted were now a painfully slow affair, if not entirely impossible; things such as putting my hair up into a ponytail, rising from a sitting position, and opening up a jar whose seal had already been broken. My coworkers gave me puzzled looks as my hands trembled when lifting heavy objects, such as a pen and a piece of paper. I was beyond sore – my muscles had been shredded and pummeled into a pulp. Even the slightest movements while I slept would send acute, painful reminders of what I had subjected my poor body to. What had caused this severe debilitation? One word: CrossFit.
For those unfamiliar with this fitness regime, CrossFit is a combination of Olympic weightlifting, interval training, gymnastics, and calisthenics. At first glance, this may not seem to have anything to do with endurance running, especially for ultramarathon distances. In fact, when one conjures up an image of an elite CrossFitter, it is often the fitness antithesis of an elite ultramarathoner. CrossFit tends to focus on powerful, fast-twitch muscle movements, whereas endurance running involves miles upon miles and hours upon hours of steady, consistent running. However, the two are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they can work in synergy in an ultramarathon training plan. At least that’s my hope, anyway…
And so the first weeks of my CrossFit experience went on. Just when I thought I was finally recovering from my utter soreness, another workout would come along with a new set of complex lifts or movements, and 24 to 48 hours later, I would still be feeling the burn in different muscle groups. I struggled (and continue to struggle with) certain exercises, such as pull-ups and double-under jump rope. Yet I also find some proclivities, such as rowing and running. That’s the beauty of CrossFit: everyone has their strengths and weaknesses, and you get the opportunity to improve muscle imbalances that repetitive running can often foster.
Even though some of my precious free time is now diverted to non-running activity, I find my running has greatly benefited. Since starting CrossFit, I have observed a steady improvement in my average pace during training. And, despite constantly reaching the point of “failure” during workouts – that awful feeling when your muscles simply cannot physically perform the task anymore – and my constant companion, fatigue, I overall feel great during my runs and throughout the day in general. Another added benefit: I have yet to experience any overuse injuries from my running, despite a dramatic increase in my weekly mileage.
I was uncertain whether this level of commitment to a cross-training activity was going to be beneficial to my running, especially when it seemed to misappropriate training time that seemed better used by getting more miles in. But sometimes it pays to deviate a little from the same old routine, especially when in a rut. Whether it is in training or in other aspects of life, taking a break from the usual grind in order to pursue a slightly different activity can allow insights that ultimately provide benefits to every facet of life.
Until our paths cross again,